Re: origin of ideas, civilization, reading list

Date: Sun Aug 05 2001 - 16:38:16 MDT

In a message dated 8/5/01 1:44:36 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

<< wrote,
> Just out of curiosity, I'm wondering how many on this list feel
> they came up
> with the idea of the singularity on their own. I feel like I did, and was
> surprised to find an organization based, in large part, on the concept.
" I believe H.G. Wells' Shape of Things to Come, Orwell's 1984, and similar
 stories have predicted the basic concept of future-shock for a long time.
 In the '70's there was a book called Future Shock. People thought computers
 would make life so complicated that we wouldn't be able to cope or
 understand reality. They predicted that the future would be so alien that
 we would not be able to comprehend it or cope. The entire world would be
 I think historically, every generation has had this fear. The industrial
 revolution made people fear that machines would do all the work and humans
 would either live in utopia or wander around dazed without any purpose of
 function. When the New World was discovered, it was an planetary reshaping
 event that changed the view of the planet. Entire geographies, cultures and
 histories changed. People suddenly could leave the known world and go
 somewhere else. This was seen as a bizarre change with a new world which
 was assumed to be so alien that people wondered if it were possible to
 colonize. People feared the idea that the earth wasn't in the center of the
 universe. They thought that this concept plus other scientific discoveries
 would rock the foundations of the cosmos so much that the common man would
 be lost and unable to cope with reality. Socrates was coerced into drinking
 hemlock because his basic philosophical ideas and thoughts were feared to
 corrupt a whole generation of youth with a culture so radically different
 and changed that it threatened to bring down empires.
 I believe every generation believes that they are on the cutting edge of
 some cataclysmic change. They always imagine that they are possibly the
 last generation and that the world would be destroyed soon. The apocalypse
 is always seen as immanent. Each generations imagines that their
 accomplishments piled on top of all historical accomplishments have
 accelerated so far that there is no turning back. They also have trouble
 conceptualizing the changes such that they cannot fathom what future changes
 will bring. As such, they always predict total destruction or total
 incomprehensibility of the future. This is the basis of ancient religious
 apocalyptic writings and mystical revelations.
 There is nothing new in the concept that we will finally reach the ultimate
 acceleration into infinity. I think each generation looks like it is
 advancing exponentially when compared to all previous generations. What
 looks like a steep exponential curve to us will be relatively flat to our
 descendants. I not only think that the concept of a singularity is an old
 concept. I think it is a recurring concept that will keep repeating. We
 will keep having continuous improvement into the future with no sudden
 changes in reality. We will adapt to sudden changes as we have adapted to
 guns, steam engines, computers, space travel, internet, genetic engineering,
 etc. Cloning, uploading, and nanotechnology will merely be the latest
 products on the market and will soon become boring. The riots and battles
 over future technology will be just like past battles over slavery, race
 riots, energy crisis, gay rights, nuclear energy, etc.
 In many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same."

 Harvey Newstrom <> <>

Thanks, I appreciate your thoughtful reply. I agree with your idea that
worldview-rending information, cataclysmic thought, and the idea that
societal and technological change are accelerating have a long history with
humanity. But, if I interpret you correctly, then I think I don't view these
perennial phenomena as quite as similar to the singularity as you do. But
maybe I misinterpet the extropian singularity and its similarity to my own
idea. My idea is simply that, once an AI is created that is more intelligent
than its creators (specifically, is more proficient in creating AI), then it
will be capable of creating an AI superior to itself, and a cycle will be
initiated whereby godlike intelligence and powers will be created. I'm not
particularly concerned with the rate or predictability of the cycle, but just
awestruck by the potential. I think this is a new idea to humanity, as
opposed to something that most generations have been preocuppied with.

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